The Eastern Algarve is a little away from the hustle and bustle of the Algarve, which is full of good courses - with some great ones - but it has become a little too commercial and noisy for some, and certainly does not capture the real spirit of Portugal in the same way as the region more to the east, which runs up to the Spanish border.
It is always impressive when something is built and created for the enjoyment of others without compromise and maintained to the highest standards. It is even more impressive when this type of commitment takes place against the backdrop of acute economic misery and all the indicators would seem to point to a more reasonable route for survival. Monte Rei has been built with these principles and even the dreadful issues that blighted Europe in 2008 were unable to blunt the vision of excellence becoming the classiest of realities.
The original investors saw that there was an opportunity to build a really special golf resort to the east of the popular Algarve, which is very close to the Spanish border. The land was great and Jack Nicklaus was hired to build a signature course. The Nicklaus course design outfit is highly accomplished and no slouch when it comes to producing world-class golf courses, but the ‘signature’ Nicklaus course had the Golden Bear himself involved in the project. This, of course, cost more by way of a fee, but Jack Nicklaus insists that a course bearing his personal stamp will not be compromised in any way, hence the construction budget is also far higher. So the vision for this very special place was without compromise, as was the design and construction. Then the world economic crisis hit - just as the sumptuous villas that can be seen in varying degrees of prominence around the course - were being completed. Quality or not, nobody was buying this type of property and it was a brave and strong decision by the owner not to drop prices to offset some of the enormous costs of setting up the resort. A better solution was found - the villas were turned into the most elegant rental properties in Europe. Five star was the mark, and this had several positive outcomes. First, the brand of Monte Rei was not in any way cheapened by the crisis and has actually become even stronger. The rental properties give the opportunity for lucky and prosperous golfers to enjoy one of the best courses on the planet and spread the word about this truly gorgeous golf complex.
The course itself is championship length, with four sets of perfectly turned out tees. It twists through green rocky outcrops and water features, some built, some natural and some adapted to create a treat for any golfer’s eye. There are five par threes, five par fives and eight par fours which make up the par 72 layout; the back tees can take the course to well over 7000 yards, but the gold markers provide all golfers with a stiff challenge and the chance to play irons into some of the par fours.
The course is designed for buggies, which are compulsory. This ensures a maximum of four and a half hours for a round and keeps all the players moving at a decent pace. There is a fair amount of distance from greens to tees and the many changes in elevation, so in many ways buggies are a relief. The fleet of gleaming Club Cars are all equipped with the Visage GPS system, which gives accurate yardages (and can be used metrically). There is a full buggy path around the course of perfectly maintained, stippled concrete. The access to the fairways is from a variety of dropped curb points alongside the fairways, so wear can be managed and the course left in pristine order. The Visage system not only allows for valuable golfer information, but allows the buggies to be restricted to various areas on the course - at Monte Rei buggies are not allowed too close to the greens. This is clearly signed, but to underline the point, firmly, but discretely, the buggy’s power wanes if you stray too near the edge of the prohibited areas. A nice touch.
The green complexes are a wonderful study in understanding how Nicklaus sees golf as a challenge. In his playing days he used to analyse the best route around the course, using a combination of power and precision to leave him with the best opportunity to score low. This always centred on his belief that uphill putts give the best chance to the golfer, so plotting the course from tee to green was about the best way to get ‘under’ the hole, so a bold birdie attempt could be made. Since he turned more and more to golf course design to leave his legacy, he is almost working in reverse - setting the puzzle for the thoughtful and skilled golfer. An innocuous looking par four of modest distance will often require an approach shot that dares not to go past the flag, or undulations and pace of the perfect greens will render par a dream. All of the greens have specific areas for such tests to be set by the greenkeeper and Director of Golf. These will depend on weather and wind conditions and the type of golfers being entertained. Many a hacker will walk off a ‘signature’ course moaning that they could not get the hang of the greens. Keep trying – it is not meant to be easy, even if it looks straightforward.
Most Nicklaus courses are marked with some type of prominent eye line marker for all the driving holes, such as a bunker, rock of substantial tree. These can clearly be seen across Monte Rei and it is a joy to work the ball to the optimum position from these points (although it has to said that the editor had a number of Mulligans on his recent visit). It is great to see the thoroughness of a great player set out for golfers through the years to enjoy.
Darren Griffiths is the Director of Golf at Monte Rei and it his responsibility to manage all of the golfers’ experiences. Golf Features caught up with him:
“This is one of the most remarkable golf facilities I have seen around the world and it is my very good fortune to work here. It is hard work, as we are all determined to ensure that our levels of service are of the highest standards, so all our visitors and members have the very best experience when they are here. We have a highly dedicated team and a very supportive owner and our job is to continue to ensure we keep the standards of all sections of the operation in excellent order.”
Prior to the round, the golfer can warm up on the practice ground, which is wide and long and provides a rolling outfield and target greens. The grass teeing strip is perfectly maintained and there are complimentary pyramids ofTitleist, NXT and Pro V1 balls for all golfers. Separate chipping and putting greens are all maintained to the same top standards as the course. It almost goes without saying that the greens are always hand cut and the expertise of the greenkeeping team is clear to see - this is a resort in tip top condition throughout.
There is a major fine dining restaurant at the clubhouse and another at the leisure club. Most of the golfers can top and tail their round with gorgeous food in the golf bar and terrace. The service is very attentive, but warm and personal too; all of the staff are keyed in to a genuinely great experience for every visitor and member.
As the world, and in particular Portugal, have now started to emerge from the pain of the economic meltdown, Monte Rei has started to build some more accommodation units and these are a great fit for the whole resort. Unashamedly upmarket, there are some fantastic opportunities to buy an exquisite home on this complex. The modern apartments and villas are expensive, but if you can afford it, there are few more spectacular settings for a golf property.
Jack Nicklaus is getting older and at 78 he may not be building many more ‘signature’ courses. But the great news for Monte Rei is that he is scheduled to start work on a second signature course early next year, which will take this fabulous resort to the top of the tree in Europe. I cannot wait to see how they compare.
For more information and to book yourself a fantastic experience, visit: www.monte-rei.com